Transforming a Unionized Plant: Leadership Lessons For A Divided World

Thomas C. Tuttle




This book is the historical record of a series of events at a (truck parts) manufacturing facility in Hagerstown, Maryland, USA, together with the  parallel series of leadership changes and consultancy activities.  The author was the lead consultant on behalf of what was, at the time, the University of Maryland Center for Productivity & Quality, swoon sweree involved in an advisory capacity over an extended period and through many of the key activities and changes.


Tuttle sets out the history in the context of the prevailing political climate and economic situation and, importantly, colours that history with both anecdotes and quotes from the time.


The history reports a number of rises and falls in the fortunes of the plant and Tuttle explains the reasons behind these and the reactions of the various stakeholders - principally the (changing) owners and managers of the plant, and the United Auto Workers union.


There are a number of lessons to be learnt from the book. Perhaps the most Important is the need for consistent and committed leadership, preferably values-based leadership (which is the underpinning of the consistency and commitment).  The contributions, both positive and negative, of the various leaders involved, are both elaborated and explained.  Another (linked) factor is the importance of the experience of the leaders(s) in operational activity and operational leadership. It might be a little simplistic to say that downturns in fortune correlated with the imposition of financial managers with little understanding of operational activity or operational personnel, but sometimes simple is true.


Yet another success factor is the bringing together of all parties that have an interest in the success of an initiative, or, as was the case here, the very survival of the plant.  The periods of success clearly occurred when the management and union teams were operating in a culture of mutual trust and recognised mutual inter-dependency.


Of course, there were still difficult situations and problems to be overcome.  My final lesson is that it is clear that, for this plant, success , when it came, was facilitated by a third party -  Tuttle and his team at UMCPQ.  They were trusted by both management and unions.  They carried out diagnostic tests and provided ‘treatment’ to cure company ills; they acted as communicators and translators; and, of course, they brought specific knowledge and expertise.  They were, in essence, the glue that bound together the management-union partnership.


Tuttle, in the last chapter, sets out the lessons he feels become evident from the history, but most readers will have recognised many of these already.  I gave my own summary earlier in this review but is is good to see Tuttle’s lessons set in gore context of today’s world.


The writing is clear, lucid and approachable and the mixture of historic record interspersed with anecdotes and contemporaneous quotes brings trhe whole story alive. It is the kind of book that I wish I had read much earlier in my career; it would have saved me a number of problems and made me more effective.


You do not need to be operating in a manufacturing environment to find this book of value; anyone working in a multi-stakeholder environment will find it of benefit - but especially those managing unionised workplaces.


Contact us

Address: 3rd Floor, Telegraph House,  80 Cleethorpe Road, Grimsby, DN31 3EF 

Phone:    +44 1472 358195


                     Privacy Policy

Powered by Wild Apricot. Try our all-in-one platform for easy membership management